First Came the Chicken…
On September 10, 1945 a rooster’s neck was laid out across a chopping block in Fruita, Colorado. The farmer pinned the feathered creature’s neck down with his left hand, and could feel his stomach growling as he lifted the axe in his right. As the axe came down, simple thoughts raced through the farmer’s mind, thoughts of chicken dinner and maybe pie for dessert. He grimaced, preparing for the blade’s impact, normally a very routine part of his day. But what happened next would set records, launch a traveling road show, and baffle the scientific community.
The axe struck the chicken’s neck a little high, the farmer wanted to save some neck meat for extra food since he and his wife were expecting company at dinner. The farmer watched as the headless chicken ran around the yard, staggering and regaining its balance. He gazed at first with an expectant smile. However minutes turned into an hour, and his grin turned into a concerned frown as the headless bird went back to pecking at the ground and doing what normal chickens do. There would be no chicken dinner that night.
The farmer’s name was Lloyd Olsen. The chicken’s name was Mike. After having his head separated from his body, Mike the Headless Chicken (as he came to be known) continued to live a healthy life, growing from 2 1/2 lbs. to nearly 8 lbs. over the next 18 months. During that time, Farmer Olsen grew fond of Mike and sustained the chicken by feeding him through an eyedropper.
The chicken was a medical phenomenon. Scientists at the University of Utah said the incision had missed the jugular and most of Mike’s brain stem remained intact, allowing the chicken to retain most of his bodily functions.
Olsen decided to hit the road with Mike, touring New York, Atlantic City, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Curious crowds paid 25 cents to see Mike, the “Wonder Chicken.” Mike was recognized in Time and Life magazines. At the height of his popularity, Mike was valued at $10,000 and carried an insurance policy of equal value.
Unfortunately, the tour didn’t last. 18 months after his initial brush with death, Mike passed away in an Arizona hotel room. Farmer Olsen had been unable to find the eyedropper to clear the chicken’s esophagus. The life of Mike the Headless Chicken had ended, but his legend had only just begun.
Then Came the Festival…
To celebrate Mike’s world record run, the City of Fruita hosts Mike the Headless Chicken Festival, an annual event on the third weekend of May. As wild and eclectic as Mike’s legend, the festival has grown into a large event. The weekend begins on Thursday with a kickoff party held at a local business. On Friday, vendors set up their tents on the lawn of the Fruita Civic Center while live music plays into the night. Backyard games like corn hole and a free hoverboard ride are available for kids of all ages, and Fruita restaurants like The Hot Tomato Pizzeria and Suds Brothers are open for dining. But the first two days of the festival are just a warm up compared to Saturday’s events.
The final day begins with a race, in honor of the chicken that raced death for 18 months. The Mike the Headless Chicken 5K is one of the premiere races in the valley, featuring incredible views and plenty of competition. Meanwhile, another competition for the non-runners takes place at Snook’s Bottom Disc Golf Course. Mike’s Disc Golf Tournament offers passionate disc golfers a chance to try their skills against local and regional competition on a unique course that follows alongside the Colorado River.
Throughout the day, there is a poultry show featuring over 100 of the most exotic poultry in the region. Finally, the day ends with a free wing-eating contest and more quality live music.
The Colorado River and the canyons of the Colorado National Monument, along with world-class mountain bike trails and a thriving night scene combine with the festival events to create a weekend worth experiencing.